John August has built up a solid reputation as a screenwriter since his breakthrough with 1999’s Go (where he also directed second unit) and subsequent work with Tim Burton. Now comes his feature debut as director in the metaphysical indie flick The Nines, an expansion/riff on his own short from 1998 (which is included on this DVD release),God.
The Nines is divided into three seemingly-related parts, with Ryan Reynolds playing the lead and Melissa McCarthy the support in each. The first is about Gary, a Hollywood TV actor who accidentally burns down his house before going on a drug bender and is placed in house arrest at the home of an absent screenwriter. There, he finds a strange note apparently in his own handwriting stating to, “Look for the Nines.” Promptly, he seems surrounded by an unnatural level of occurrence of the number and then there is his neighbour Sarah (Hope Davis) who seems to know some kind of secret about him.
The second part is a reality TV show about a screenwriter named Gavin (Reynolds, again) struggling to get his own television show past pilot and into being a series and the third is inside this pilot as videogame designer Gabriel and his wife find their car broken down in the woods.
The premise of The Nines is terrific and raises questions around the creative process and a the responsibility of a creator to his or her own creation. The pieces of the story puzzle are added to as the second section plays out, but the film takes the strange step of then having a character explain the entire movie with a good half-hour remaining – and then a second character fill in what few blanks remain in another big speech at the climax. The concept remains a solid one, but this approach means the audience is robbed of the pleasure of putting the pieces together for themselves. Ultimately, this brings the film back from being great to just being good.
Reynolds is a near-revelation as the three leads, making each character distinct and yet similar so that the audience sympathy is not lost. It is quite the tightrope act but he pulls it off with aplomb, particularly as the frustrated Gavin, forced to choose between his best friend and his own TV show creation. An actor typically used in comedies and action flicks, it is nice to see Reynolds showing he has some real acting chops. Melissa McCarthy is also strong, leveraging her immediate likeability to justify why her character is held in the esteem she is by Gary/Gavin/Gabriel.
Enjoyable and clever, The Nines strays frustratingly close to brilliance. For a film consisting of people talking to each other, it needs the excitement of revelation to drive it. By talking down to its audience, it may mean the film is easily understood but its power is also eroded. Perhaps it needed to heed the advice of Melissa on Gavin’s show-within-a-movie when he is wondering if people will not ‘get it’. “I didn’t think we were making it for dumb people?” McCarthy asks. If only The Nines had that same standpoint.
- Commentary with John August and Ryan Reynolds
- Deleted scenes
- Alternate ending
- Summing up the Nines: Making-of featurette
- God: a shirt film by John August
* Note that the commentary with August, Melissa McCarthy and editor Douglas Crise mentioned on the back of the DVD is not actually on this release.
Available on DVD from Madman Entertainment.